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Our prayers are with all those in Texas and Louisiana who are dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Some are now returning to their homes while many will not be able to return for days or weeks. Now is the time to prepare for that return. The more you know and the more you plan, the faster you will be able to handle the cleanup in a way that will keep you safe as you move forward. There are many dangers in the cleanup process, prepare before you begin.
Report damage to your insurance agent immediately, even in the middle of the night. Claims are processed in the order they are received, be the first to call. You have been paying for this service for years so don’t be afraid to get your name on the list immediately. Inform your insurance agent that you are beginning cleanup. If you wait for insurance adjusters to show up it may be too late the save items which could have been salvaged. If possible, communicate to confirm your conversation using email thus having written proof that you were given the ok to begin the cleaning process.
Contact government agencies as soon as possible, again, be first in line. This may be a very time consuming process so have one adult sit in line while the other adult(s) heads to your home.
After your report damage, find a place for the kids and pets. Do not involve them in the early days of cleanup as there are still too many things that can go wrong, trees falling due to saturated ground, ceiling collapses, unwanted pests and animals also seeking a safe place. It’s a long list.
When you can finally return home after flooding there are a few things to do immediately.
- ·Walk around the outside of your home and check for gas leaks, loose power lines, and structural damage before entering. Watch for snakes, rodents, and dangerous debris. Downed power lines conduct electricity thru the ground up to 30 feet so stay far away. Do not walk through flowing water – just six inches of water can knock you off your feet.
- Open exterior doors slowly, sticking may indicate that the ceiling is ready to fall. Wait 10 minutes after opening a door before entering to be sure it is safe. Be careful as steps and floors will be slippery.
- Turn off electricity into your home, if it can be done safely and without walking through water. Once the power has been turned off, unplug appliances and lamps. Remove light bulbs, wet switches and outlet plates.
- If you can smell gas or have been advised to do so, turn off gas into your home at the main valve. Before turning your gas back on or lighting a pilot, contact your utility company.
- Do not use gas lanterns, open flames, and do not allow anyone to smoke, since there may be explosive gas in the air.
- Before you begin the cleaning up process take pictures of everything, everything. You want to be able to prove the damage was caused by flooding and not afterward.
- Inventory all damaged contents. This is a huge pain in the neck but you cannot receive payment for items you have not listed on your insurance claim forms. Once you have been paid by your insurance company they will not pay you for items you failed to list on the original claim. Assign one or two people to do nothing but keep this record. They should take a photo and make a physical list as well.
- Minimize damage as quickly as you can. Insurance will not cover damage that is considered to have been preventable. If you have damage to your roof, for example, tarp it immediately.
- Release water from ceilings by using a nail on the end of a stick to poke a small hole at the edge of the sag. Poking a hole at the center could cause a collapse. Repeat the process working toward the center. This will release water and help prevent the ceiling from falling.
- Test for water trapped in walls by removing the baseboard and poking small holes in the wallboard about two inches above the floor. If water appears, cut holes to allow water to drain.
- Open (do not force) windows, doors, (interior and exterior), fireplace flue, cabinets and drawers to help with the drying process.
- Remove floor coverings from flooded areas. Take pictures and save a small sample of any carpet/upholstery for your insurance adjuster.
- Take wet floor covering and upholstered furniture outside to dry. Mold grows quickly and can be life-threatening.
- Remove as much debris and mud as possible from the access routes around your home. Once help shows up to aid your cleanup you want easy access to your home and you don’t want to hurt yourself as you carry items from your home.
- Never drink tap water after a flood. Wait until the authorities have told you it is safe.
- Never eat food that has been in contact with flood water. Disinfect sides and ends of all canned foods exposed to flood waters before opening. Disinfect the can opener. Discard all food that is not in a can. If in doubt, throw it out.
Once the initial assessment is complete it is time to accumulate the items needed to cleanup. It is time to ask family and friends to bring supplies as you will be too overwhelmed and tired to do that yourself. What do you ask for? You will need:
- Shovels: Flat are best
- Tarps: good for covering salvaged items and to haul debri
- Gloves: as many as possible as you will need to change them often as they become wet or coated with mud
- Disinfectants: Bleach and clean water and buckets to mix them in or a commercial disinfectant.
- Wet wipes: for when you take a break to eat or just to freshen up.
- Port-a-potty and TP
- Folding chairs
- Folding tables
- Notebook and pens: for inventory, make lists of items needed or to leave notes for those coming to check on you including first responders.
- Water and snacks
- Pitch forks
- Chainsaws and fuel for them
- Paper towels and rags
- Large plastic trash bags
- Small sealable plastic bags
- Shade structures such as patio umbrellas and dining tents
- N95 masks: purchase at pharmacy stores
- Hard hats
- Boots to share
- Socks: wet socks should be changed often
- Sun glasses
- Sun screen
- Insect repellant
- Fire extinguishers
- First aid kits: there will be minor cuts and unfortunately occasionally more major ones.
- Brooms: especially push brooms
- Tool kits
- Radio: it’s good to stay informed
- A positive attitude, a sense of humor and patience.
Remember this is all just stuff. Always put safety first.
Thank you to all of you who are helping those in crisis with your strong backs, wallets, donations and prayers.
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. Mark 12:30-31